About this Show

Book TV

Annalee Newitz Education. (2013) 'Scatter, Adapt and Remember How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction.'

NETWORK

DURATION
01:01:00

RATING

SCANNED IN
San Francisco, CA, USA

SOURCE
Comcast Cable

TUNER
Channel 17

VIDEO CODEC
mpeg2video

AUDIO CODEC
ac3

PIXEL WIDTH
704

PIXEL HEIGHT
480

TOPIC FREQUENCY

Us 10, Nasa 5, Seattle 4, Giglio 2, Google 2, Africa 2, San Francisco 2, Mars Or Mercury 1, Richard Dawkins 1, Asia 1, Narrative 1, Magma 1, Lava 1, Panetta 1, Dawkins 1, Leah Mengin 1, Mars 1, Biggio 1, Dhaka 1, Lystrosaurus Heaven 1,
Borrow a DVD
of this show
  CSPAN    Book TV    Annalee Newitz  Education.  (2013) 'Scatter, Adapt  
   and Remember How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction.'  

    August 18, 2013
    11:00 - 12:01am EDT  

11:00pm
fact,, but apart from matt my book is not devoted to atheism. . .
11:01pm
immensely powerful idea. >> richard dawkins has written about ideas. what was it like to write about yourself? >> guest: quite difficult. i was persuaded by publishers and had to overcome embarrassment. i like to think it's humorous. finally i have to say i enjoyed writing it. >> did you enjoy doing it? why? >> guest: reliving memories is not exactly a systematic history of my life. it's a patchwork of memories. it's a working title i had in mind but i started writing it. but i hope the man random memories are put together in such a way to encapsulate the
11:02pm
life. >> host: it will be in the bookstores and the timber, 2013. is this the american cover or the english and american? >> guest: that is the english covered. >> host: what is the american cover? >> guest: the british cover is sideways on view and not smiling. it's more poetic rather than cheerful and holding up a little jar containing an insect. >> host: why different covers? why would that sell in england? >> guest: i have no idea. publishers have their way. i like this cover. i'm happy to have both of them out there. >> host: "an appetite for wonder the making of a scientist." richard dawkins is the author. it will be in bookstores in september, 2013.
11:03pm
next, science writer annalee newitz recounts and present her thoughts on how humans can survive a future catastrophic disaster. this program is a little over an hour. [applause] >> thanks so much for coming out to hear about the end of the world and thanks to the town hall for putting on this amazing series. it's so terrific the public science education is going on like this, especially at a time funding is being cut to the science of the national level so we need to be pushing for as much science and education as possible. i just finished writing an optimistic book about the apocalypse and it didn't start out that way at all. i really didn't realize that this book was going to have a
11:04pm
happy ending. and it actually started because i have been fascinated my whole life with stories about destruction, especially massive global destruction and apocalypses and everything from the underground cannibal apocalypse to those on the stories and godzilla stories. godzilla is kind of one of my spirit animals. [laughter] i wanted to a couple of years ago when i was thinking about this i thought well, how can i write a kind of nonfiction version of a godzilla movie and what would that it looked like if we delve into the scientific literature and what history has to teach us? what would be the equivalent of some kind of massive destruction caused by the force that we don't understand? and i came upon the idea of mass extinction which are indeed the worst kind of disaster that could ever happen to the planet.
11:05pm
and the more i research them, the more i read scientific papers and talk to scientists on a realized that actually one of the characteristics of the mass extinction is that there are survivors. and that is when i began to change haloid understood what this book was going to be about. so let me start by telling you a little bit about the destruction a mass extinction is actually a scientific term of art, which refers to any event where more than 75% of all species on the planet by out, and usually these take about a million years. and so when you look at them they are taking place in geological times. they are not a quick thing that we can see in a human lifetime. and one of the things that links
11:06pm
pretty much all of the mass extinctions -- and there have been five of them so far in earth's history over the past half a billion years or so -- is that most of them are caused by climate change. so usually there is some prolific event that sets off the climate change may be an asteroid hits the planet which is what happened in the most recent and perhaps most famous mass extinction which is the one that extinguish the dinosaurs 65 million years ago when an asteroid slammed into the plan at but when that happened actually it wasn't like a michael a movie. it wasn't like a big rock hit the planet and there was fire and dinosaurs were being barbequed, and also that some school there were no leaders and anything like that. what actually happened of course is where the asteroid hit there were horrific five years and creatures were killed by the thousands, but over time, the
11:07pm
act from the asteroid worked its way into the atmosphere and changed the climate over the long term. so actually what happened is most dinosaurs died out from the subsequent climate changes and this is the case like i said with all of the mass extinctions let me tell you a little bit about my favorite mass extinction to give you an idea how this works. everyone has a favorite mass extinction if you talk about this they have a humor about it because these were mass slayings of creatures. my personal favorite is the one that comes at the end of the permian period and if you look at this chart here of the geological periods you can see it near the bottom and there is even a thing that says extinction near the permian. this is about 250 million years ago. and at that time and, the planet
11:08pm
is due to the tectonics and the continent were completely different than they are now. they are arranged into one giant super content. you have to imagine the super continent is stretching all the way from the north pole down to the south pole. and that is when in the north, in the area that eventually became siberia turned into a super volcano and what happened is not a scientific term. but they basically refers to a massive volcano and this was caused by insignia's province which is a very large area where lot is being released in multiple places so you have to imagine them as opening and the earth. it's not like a mountain where it's kind of blowing up on the top pivoted dance are opening up like the liesman volcano that we saw recently.
11:09pm
and they just start excluding what -- lava losing out of these cracks and events and there's multiple events. so in this northern area, this even to went on for i wouldn't say a thousand years, but there was a thousand years eruption and what happened was over time the gases and ash that were released from that volcanic eruption were like a super industrial revolution. they were releasing so much carbon into the environment that the climate first started to cool down and then it heated up into a greenhouse and the oceans became very aesthetic and creatures died out an incredible numbers putative was the first mass extinction the planet has ever seen and by the end of that million year period 95% of all species on the planet have died
11:10pm
out even the insects which was unusual, you don't usually see insect deaths in a mass extinction but it was sea creatures, land creatures, plants. everybody by the volcano. the creature that actually kind of turned me around on the mass extinction and think about them in a new way to a group of animals that later evolved into mammals, so it was a mammal like creature. think of it as the uncle to humanity. his name is lystrosaurus that had traits that made it excellent in this time of earth history. was somewhat small but a dog size. it was about 3 feet long, two to
11:11pm
3 feet long. it looks a little bit like a pig and a little bit like a lizard. and they were burrowers so you have to imagine them eating away pages do. they probably burrowed in the evening. they had powerful front legs they were digging out holes and living underground a lot. so, for the lystrosaurus it was awesome when the volcano started going off because the whole world was kind transformed into lystrosaurus heaven because they were used to being underground and breeding kind of in dirty air. they had a great long capacity that possibly they were able to get more oxygen from dirty air and other creatures that were similar in size. the other thing about lystrosaurus is that a lot of its natural predators died during the early triassic which is the period that followed the
11:12pm
permian period underground of the sunlight is lost and temperatures are changing, that food source is probably going to be mostly unharmed by that transition. one of the headings lystrosaurus did is scattered across the southern continent. scattered across the continent they've evolved into many different species me be four, possibly more. and adapted to the new ecological niches. it scattered and adopted and fled from danger which is a super volcano and it learned how to live in new places.
11:13pm
and this humble little weird face guy became my mascot working on this book i treated in godzilla as my mascot and picked up lystrosaurus because this creature was, as i said, he was very humble yet nevertheless managed to make it through the toughest time in earth history why all of these other creatures around it were suffering because the food web were unraveling. this is a major cause of mass extinction. the food web is a way of talking about the networks of basically who eats whom in the ecosystem and what happens is you have a food web where a lot of creatures start going extinct and it causes extinctions' among other creatures to eat them and so if your food source die is coming you die, too. so that this kind of one of the ways the mass extinction get started is you have a few of them die off and then you get
11:14pm
these other mass extinction situations that cause the 75% no.. one thing we can do as humans that lystrosaurus can't do or probably couldn't do. so we have the ability in a crisis to basically do what lystrosaurus did is to adapt to the new environment. humans and have been terrific at doing that. at different points in history we leave from danger when we have been lucky. but we also have a form of memory that goes way beyond just remembering what happened yesterday. it goes way beyond remembering if i want to go to sleep tonight i need today hole in the crowd the way the lystrosaurus did. humans can remember not just their own lifetime, that we can use history to remember whole of our civilization history.
11:15pm
we can use scientific fields like anthropology and geology to actually look back and consider the whole history of our evolution as the species as well as as the planet. and look at all of the disasters that have happened and learn from them. that is a profound survival skill. something has far as we know is unique to human beings as a species. we haven't found any other species that seems to be able to do that. and so part of my hope and sort of that center of writing this book when i realized there wasn't going to be destruction and there were the hope of survival is that we actually have the traits of a survivor species like the lystrosaurus plus this added ability to plan for the future and that is important and i spend a lot of time in the book talking about ways we can start planning for
11:16pm
the future basing those plans on what we know of disasters that have already happened to cubans but also that have happened to the earth, because that's really important in planning is learning from history and from the great experience that is human evolution and civilization. so, let me put this in perspective for you. human beings are mammals which is why we are cute and free and we have to live these and all those sorts of good things, just like these of here. the typical species life span for a mammal in other words the typical amount of time before it evolves into another species or dies out is a million years. that is a typical species life span. and humans evolved about 100,000 years ago possibly 200,000 depending on kind of where you set in the anthropological
11:17pm
this question. but the fact is either way, we are pretty early in the species time line. we've only got, you know, say 900,000 years left to go. so, when we are thinking about planning for the future as a species, planning for our survival, we need to be thinking and not just of what are we going to do next month or next week but how are we going to set things up so that we have a good experience living for another 900,000 years. what can we do now, what can we think about giving as a species, what kind of product can we take on to make the 900,000 years of some instead of, as you know, looking like cannibals underground and turning into zombies. [laughter] i talk about the very long term
11:18pm
plans we can start working on him now and share with coming generations for the next several millennia and more. the first area that i'm most interested in is city building and planning it. the reason why is right now, the vast majority of humans, the majority of humans, more than 50% live in cities and the u.n. has done some predictions on how that will continue. and if things go pretty much as they have been, we are looking at as many as 67 or 70% of people living in cities in 50 years. so, people are becoming more and more urban. of the majority of humanities are going to be located in cities. a good place to focus on ways to make our lives more survivable.
11:19pm
they make this city is more survivable. first we need to think about how to make the city's robust against disaster and there's a lot of different things we can do from better earthquake engineering and that's one thing to talk about in the book in san francisco where we deal with earthquakes all the time. you also live in a subduction zone so they should probably be thinking about them a lot, too. and we also need to be thinking about things that are a little bit more ephemeral and social like how do you organize the cities and evacuation plan in the flood or how to resolve a pandemic that hits your city but it has to do with how you engineer the social and infrastructure on the city. and it turns out there are a lot of myths about how to handle upended mix in a city that are not really true and it was very interesting for me to find out
11:20pm
about. one of the interesting areas and this is going to get a little bit futuristic that i think could help the cities become not just more disaster proof but also more sustainable is a movement that just started now that is called living architecture. it goes by other names come to act like by yo architecture. it's basically a combination of architectural design that imitate nature but also material science that creates a building materials that the cave like living substances and our actually partly made of living substances. of one of the best examples of this is something called self healing concrete. again not a scientific term it is just used for different substances. what you can see here on the slide is one experiment done a few years ago by some students that invented a substance that is partly made from bacteria
11:21pm
from a genetically modified bacteria that when they were put into a crack in the concrete -- and you can see here there was a sort of on the left side there's the crack -- and this is rectified by the way -- and they put this substance they refer to as bacillafilla. i'm glad you are laughing because you are a sign in crowd so you know that means. but they named it bacillafilla, and basically the bacilla would go into the cracks and it would have this epoxy as well as some other kind of calcium from co like substances and eventually fell in the crack holding on to the concrete and leaving behind the kind of scholar that has healed up with the kind of architecture that the bacteria
11:22pm
are trained, not trained but set up and engineered to buy when they are done with their filling in the crack. so there is a fail-safe mechanism. so they give their life to heal the concrete. this is just what one example that can be used in the cities. it's up to the architects and designers in the book to talk about much more futuristic ideas how these kind of materials might be used. self healing materials of course make housing more sustainable because instead of tearing down old structures they might heal themselves and it can make things like bridges more safe because if they develop cracks they can heal themselves before a real disaster happens. and so we might be able to have self healing structures maintaining themselves just like living organisms and the city itself can become a kind of living organism helped by this kind of biological innovation
11:23pm
and also helped by things like a smart grid that really works. if you have a smart grid that really works or say a building that fits just enough power in the grid to supply what it means while other buildings that don't need power don't have any power from the grade you are creating a kind of organism where the buildings are kind of talking to each other on the grid and agreeing who is going to get power and when did you have a body were different organs are getting blood or nutrients when you need them. and so it is my idea and the idea of a lot of architects and designers working in this case that the cities are going to become more like organisms and that this will allow us to have hopefully carbon natural or carbon - cities where we are ultimately using alternative fuels and a growing fuels and maybe the cities would be full
11:24pm
of algae vat and you could use it for fuel. you might use the algae derwood quote in the dark. i talked to one designer that was interested in architecture and she said in 100 or 200 years we might be cultivating old in our houses and not killing it. and it would be exchanging recipes with your neighbors for how do you get the best mold to purify your water and light up at night? so the cities might not be as much in contradiction with nature and in contradiction with the environment where they are. one day you might look out on the city and see something that looks like a ruined or a tree house and you come across these kind of crumbling structures and realize actually a crumbling structure covered in fines might
11:25pm
really be a living place. it might look like it is crumbling because it had been self healing and so these books would be covered and scars and bumpy and they wouldn't look also moved and sexy as downtown seattle does now, but they might be a lot more sustainable and a lot better for the people in them in the environment. ultimately -- and again, looking further into the future coming even further than biological cities, we might expend our ability to farm our cities and build the city's using organic materials and start actually forming the atmosphere. when i say farm in the atmosphere i choose those words because we use for me to transform the surface of the earth. we are now kind of shepherds of everything that grows on the plan that for some areas and those areas are falling under human control debate and
11:26pm
ultimately if we want to maintain the climate at a level that we prefer we have to start thinking about how are we going to control the climate? because it's not going to be enough just to cut carbon emissions. obviously we need to do that. that is a great start. the planet goes through carbon cycle is naturally. as i was talking about in this period there are times when the planet is going to create the results of an industrial revolution without any help from us. it's going to have make of volcanoes and the court and will be introduced into the atmosphere and it will heat things up all by itself. we don't need to be fair to do it. so cubans are going to have to take on the burden for the project of actually keeping the environment in a state that we prefer. having the ice caps on the north and the south pole that's a
11:27pm
great for us. we like it to be kind of cold. all of the animals and plants in the environment are set up for that that's actually kind of weird in history as a plan that. most of the history of the planet there have been no ice caps. things have been a lot warmer. the atmosphere has been more carbon rich and more oxygen rich and so its quite a natural for us to be helping to keep the planet in a state it is nice and cool the we that we like it so eventually over time if we want our species to enjoy life on earth we have to start thinking about what kind of technologies we can invent to trawl the car and out of the atmosphere so we have to go through stuff that we've done which one can argue is not very natural or just through the natural carbon cycles of the planet. so the argeo engineering technologies, the ways of
11:28pm
engineering the the entire geology of the earth. and i do talk about that in the book as well and i won't give you too many spoilers' but trust me it is a long way off. there have been some giglio engineering experiments that have happened quite recently. there was a row biggio engineer off the coast of canada who did an experiment to draw down the carbon from the atmosphere by giving the odierno seeding in the ocean and so far it doesn't seem that it's worked out. the idea is to put on here and in the ocean and it attracts the microbes that like to eat iron. and then when they die hopefully they sink to the bottom of the ocean and take it with them. the problem is they don't tend to think all the way to the bottom of the ocean so you end up with more so that is just a start though. and giglio engineering is really
11:29pm
in its infancy. if we want to look beyond the biological cities and the jeal engineering. for one thing we have this habit of running into giant rocks and space. gravity brings us into contact sometimes. and we also have a plan that that is full of magma and volcanoes happen sometimes for a really long time and sometimes catastrophically. if we want again to half a million years and hopefully beyond, we need to be thinking about how to get off the planet. we need to be thinking about how humans can have backup cities and new civilizations on other planets and other structures in space because if something catastrophic happens to the plan
11:30pm
at we need to have a place we can be refugees and we are all going to be refugees at some point. hopefully the government won't mind. or maybe we will have to go to mars or mercury. there are a lot right now. the thing is when we think about space travel and colonizing space it may turn out to take a little bit longer than we think. we are taking our first baby steps towards the space travel. but let me just give you a quick example how that time line might work. looking back into human history, humans 50,000 years ago used boats like these that you see over here to get from asia to australia. 50,000 years ago to cross an entire ocean. but there wasn't really until about 500 years ago you had
11:31pm
international travel using boats creating a culture. it wasn't until the advent of tremendous sums of capital being poured into the shipping as part of the colonization of the plan at that you really got a global culture. so that is a kind of lag time before the first use of the boats to go from one continent to the other to creating a culture where humans are traveling all the time and content. so if you think of this first year as the rockets that we have used to get to the moon and to take our robot friends to mars we may be pretty far away from the time that we are getting between mars and earth all the time to get i hope it isn't be
11:32pm
50,000 years. i don't mean to suggest we are going to have to wait that long. but it may be a longer than we hope to get it may not be the next decade or the next century. we have a city that may take us hundreds of years before we really have a space going civilization and it may look nothing like we would expect. we may not be using rockets to get off the planet. we may be using something like a space elevator here. a space elevator is actually -- it agreed that i and in seattle because there is a space elevator conference in seattle where people that want to build it come and discuss their ideas. since the 1990's when nasa worked on a model for the space elevator and fought through some of the things we might need to create one, nasa has had an annual prize offered to anyone who can build part of this elevator that doesn't exist yet
11:33pm
and i will tell you about that in just a second. as you can see this images from nasa. when you can see here is the elevator car and there is worth far in the background. the idea of the space elevator first of all it's answering a basic question which is how do you have sustainable space travel? because right now we're using rockets that require rocket fuel which is expensive, heavy and polluting and there is a limited supply so it isn't a good long term solution. we can't keep using them to get out of the gravity well. so how would we have a kind of train into space the would be completely able to be used over and over again and something that wouldn't pollute the environment? a space elevator to the use of you have a platform on earth somewhere along the equator then you have a long tether touching
11:34pm
that platform off about 60,000 miles so you are partly to the moon at that point and that the other end you have a counterweight and that counterweight is in geostationary orbit, so it is also attached by this and i will get to that in a minute because it is kind of the problem. right now we actually have the technology to do a lot of this. the counterweight, not so much. it might be captured asteroid. it might be a happy version of the death star. basically what is going to be is a port. it's going to be a destination for people to get to in this case where they can then get on to a space ship that will take them someplace else. so the space elevator is to get you into space and on your way. it will take about three days to get to that counterweight or the
11:35pm
port. so the car isn't like an elevator as you would think of it today. it's more like a train sleeper car. you will have a bunk bed that will cost a lot of money. but hopefully it will be much cheaper than the amount of money it costs now to get into space and you can use the elevator car over and over again and you can have people growing constantly up and down and of course supplies going up and down as well. the kind that exists in the industrial factories to build large machines. it's out of the gravity will of earth and into space. the big question is what would you make the tether out of? it has to withstand the weather and the micro media rights zooming around in space.
11:36pm
it has to withstand the space junk although maybe by the time we build this we will have a space vacuum that has gotten rid of the space junk or we will have robot's collecting the space junk. it's been suggested it might be made out of the carbon man no tubes but it isn't clear whether they could really be used for something like this. but like i said, every time nasa has a contest the offer money to anyone that can come up with a substance the would be strong enough and light enough to be. so far no one has actually won that full amount. although people are working on that angle. if you have an idea than you should go to the space of a greater conference and see if you can help create the future of space travel. the point is things in the future may not look the way that we expect. we've got like i said 900,000
11:37pm
years to change and develop new technologies that will hopefully make the future a place where we can survive the disasters from everyday stuff like earthquakes and tsunamis to mass extinction causing disasters like super volcanoes or encounters with asteroids from space. the thing is that as i said, no matter what happens, humans are probably going to survive. even if we look dispassionately at the geological history and human history, we see that humans have the traits that are required to survive even a horrific disaster. the question is how we are going to survive and what project what we start taking on as a species to make our survival something that is enjoyable or something that is sustainable or not turn
11:38pm
into a terrific scenario where we have to live underground eating worms all the time. i don't want to do that every day. the fact of the matter is if we are good or bad, good to the planet or bad, we are going to make it through. we are going to survive. it's just a question of how we hear it's going to get, how different it's going to get and at some point i think that we may evolves into an entirely different species. after that million years is up. say that we in that part squinted part cyborg creatures living on the moon of saturn. that is a win for us. we don't have to be human at the end of the journey. we may change over that time and hopefully our progeny will look
11:39pm
back and say the good job there was a great path you took and now we have an awesome home on titan. that is a win for us and it's going to get weird that we are going to make it through. thanks very much. [applause] we can do the qa if people want to line up at the corner of the room. >> there would be robot arm spoiling -- [inaudible] >> that is a big question. dumoulin that nasa worked on -- i don't know if you can see it in this picture but it would be a laser powered. there will be lasers on the surface the would be powering it
11:40pm
basically sort of a version of solar power but with lasers beaming at receivers on the the elevator car. the question is, again, how do you do that with what their patterns interfering, how do you make sure that it continues to power it in space? i think once it gets into space it can probably use solar. but as it is leaving the gravity well of earth that is a big question pity so it is always an exciting answer to any question. but it is an open question. there are a lot of ex factors in building the elevators. so it is another obviously big question. >> one of the things that we remember i sure everybody remembers these things what happens when the power goes out? what happens to those books? >> the libraries are made out of paper. so i think there are a lot of answers to that question.
11:41pm
humans dhaka we do have a lot of redundant mechanisms. we don't just use the tier of -- tarabyte like i use at my house for media. we also do have books. there are also a lot of groups that organized on-line actually that are working on creating storehouses of knowledge that can be printed out and used in the event of the civilization will collapse. there's also the possibility that we could maintain some of those archives with generators. it really just depends on what the collapse use because a lot of these disasters -- leah mengin the giant fireball or if any of your watching the show revolution it's going to be like google and it's going to invent nano technology that destroys the electrical grid. anyway, don't watch that show. [laughter] most of the disasters i'm looking at are things that do
11:42pm
not happen instantaneously. so they are kind of a slow-moving disaster that kind of sticks up speed hundreds of thousands of years and even when you have something like an earthquake or a tsunami or even a bombing and aviation disaster, those tend to be localized. so you are always going to have pockets where people love and duration. and what humans are great at is sharing information over distances but even if there is a time period where some people like seattle and san francisco we don't have the internet and we all stab our eyes out because we can't even imagine what would be like there's other people that are going to maintain the information stories and we will have back up. >> what is the best thing that we can do to ensure the race? >> i have been talking about some of that today. i think that the main question
11:43pm
is how do we conceive of what we are doing as a part of a long-term halfway to survival? because all of these threats to place over many generations. and that is hard for us to think about because we are used to thinking about what can i do tomorrow to fix something next week and these are things we can do in a human lifetime to fix things for people living 300 years from now. how do we conceive of a project like rebuilding our cities to be more like a biological organisms in a way that isn't frustrating because obviously in my lifetime i'm never going to see that people i'm never going to see a space elevator unless i'm playing a video game. so how do we have steps along the way and invent the technology in our lifetime that can add to the future where we have biological cities and that is why i am really excited about things like self healing materials which are some things we can invent in the lifetime
11:44pm
and even perfect in our lifetime that would be part of the pathway towards having a more sustainable city. that is the difficult task is realizing you won't get to see the end of the storm in your lifetime and have a happy moment of the and we survived because people only know that the end of a million years. but you have to hope they say thanks to read this and we that we look back and say good job with local fire thing. good job. [laughter] that has to be the hope is we kind of get projects that we can do in a lifetime, and go to space. [laughter] >> you actually already started answering my question. i was wondering -- you know, humans as you said are uniquely
11:45pm
able to learn from history but also haven't shown much inclination to learn from history to lead so how are you going to motivate people to start down this path of things that will be useful a thousand years from now. >> or even a hundred years from now. i always find it funny that people say humans are so bad at learning from history or we are so lazy. like nobody is motivated to do anything. the fact is if you look at humans on that bigger time line like as a species. don't look at us as your brother or professors, just an individual person that is a total idiot for your whole life. you have to look at it as a long-term narrative. we are early in that narrative and also just take something like climate change. when did humanity figure out the stuff that we are doing with our industrial production is causing
11:46pm
climate change? if you want to be generous you could say 40 years or 40 years. so in our lifetime we figured that out and during that time it's become one of the most hotly debated political issues on the planet. >> many would argue that we are experiencing things even worse but the fact is just in the short period of time since we figured out that we were screwing up, we turned it into something it is a huge question of how we are going to deal with it. so again it is frustrating because all of us will be dead before we find out, you know, who prevails and what the alternative energy will be that we use instead of fossil fuel. what the corn, please know, will that be solar? because it is a great technology that is in its infantry. so i think our track record is pretty good.
11:47pm
i think that we learned a lot from the disasters that happened historically and that we are pretty agile at responding if it's just that it isn't within a lifetime. if you look back at the last 500 years, you know there have been things the humans have done and have learned from. now we have science as a widely accepted theory of dealing with the world. not everywhere but in most places and that was quite recent. so i just feel like humans are doing okay and we are muddling through. we are not the greatest. sometimes we are jerks but in the whole we have the courage to adapt and survive and it does percolate out into our politics and social structures but again, it takes a little time.
11:48pm
you mentioned there were communities online where the store the knowledge to print it off in emergency circumstances. do you know the names? >> i do talk about them in my book. there is one group that is -- you have to google this. they are basically liked 3-cd. because basically the knowledge is on 3-cd is. it's basically how do you do basic medicine and farming techniques. there's also a section on how men leave the family. [laughter] it was an ideological problem of the projects but there's also other projects -- there is a group trying to come up with a fairly small number of machines you would need to restart civilization. everything from a threshing machine to a 3g printer so the makerbot will survive the
11:49pm
shopocalypse which is great news. there's other groups doing it as well. and i think if you can kind of put all of the information together from all of those groups it can be interesting. but you always have to think about what is the threat model. like there always seems to be a scenario for the humans where we say everything is going to collapse. we won't have any power and i don't know what will happen to the cities. maybe they will be out of existence. so we have to start with men leading the charge into the agricultural economy again. and i don't mean to take on these guys. they are trying their best. they did announce an incredible amount of really helpful the information. but the fact is there's not a lot of disasters that are like that where you just see a complete loss of any kind of new technology. so why it as i said when i began, the apocalypse is a lot more complicated than we think
11:50pm
it will be. and there will be pockets of people who have access to the high technology and on the planet there are people that have access to high-technology that many people in the world don't have access to. and so the apocalypse me look a lot like the world does now. we have to be prepared for that. it's just a little bit worse and slow. that's why we do need to try to take action now to try to slow the gently go away from the worst complicated world. if you find other things let me know the resources. >> i have two kinds of thoughts. one is if you focus a little bit more on food supply as a part of the organizing affect losing
11:51pm
control of the situation i was surprised you haven't had more time talking about that. second, are there plant communities that are really good examples of these living architecture people come. >> plants like you would use? >> let's use mushrooms as an example. not to use but to look at how they survive in the circumstances or underneath the seats. >> these are great questions. in response to the question about the food supply that is a big question in my book and i talk about the food web will little bit today but i didn't go into all of the concerns about the food web. i have a section where i talk about salmon that is likely the result of climate change. and that's actually all of these exceed as i talked about -- a few examples i talk about where
11:52pm
the mass extinctions unfold slowly and take a million years, part of what is happening is the more the species died out the more the food supply dwindles and so that is really what you are talking about when you talk about death by climate change. some of the bill sells all by habitat change. but it isn't just about it's way too hot for me to live, it's also wait too hot for the grass to eat where i live. you find out how the mass extinctions work and i think that is why the food webs are an interesting way to think about the mass extinctions and unraveling because that's really where it happens is in the food web destruction. as for the plant question, i have a favorite plant. all of you it's actually a bacteria but it's kind of like a plant. blue-green algae.
11:53pm
if anybody was here for the lecture before me, it probably played a big role in that lecture. so i know that the bacteria is the greatest survivor on earth. it survived every single mass extinction and it is blue-green algea and the ancestors of the blue-green algea lived on earth billions of years ago and made it through harsh conditions and here is how they did it. they did it by involving the photosynthesis. in other words, solar power. so what made them so adaptable and so able to live anywhere including on the snowball earth and that triassic earth where they were hanging out it was because it had this ability to get energy in the food supply anywhere it went because it relied on the sun. i have a pretty extensive
11:54pm
section in the book i talk about not just the bacteria as a survivor species but also how we can learn from it to think about the solar power as being a cornerstone to survival because it worked for the bacteria and plants. it may actually be the source and the plants if they have observed an ancestor of the bacteria to create plant cells. so it is a really good survival mechanism and it's great that we finally invented it. we are just in the infancy of creating the bacteria so basically one day you too might be like bacteria. but they say humans are like bacteria upon the earth. it's like , that's a great we should be. sorry. >> i'm going to ask a question that may be diverges a little bit from some of the things you
11:55pm
talk about. i think most of the people in the room have a share of this memory as i do of living in the 70's and the 80's and we worried about nuclear winter. do you preclude an event like that? the weapons that existed then still exist now and that potential still is there for a devastating nuclear exchange among the nations and it seems to be getting worse given the politics of the world so my question has to do what do you preclude some sort of a set of political disasters that would create that nuclear winter and they would people to build something beyond that.
11:56pm
>> my answer is no and yes. i talk about radiation disasters and the interesting thing about the nuclear winter is that it's happened before on the planet and when the asteroid hit 65 million years ago that eventually led to the slow dying off of the dinosaurs. that is one of the models coming up with the media in the 80's with the previous horrific said the explosions. many species that survive. they know it's a survival event and there is also evidence to suggest the first mass extinction that went through 450 million years ago in this period caused by radiation bombardment pitting its controversy because it was long ago and hard to say but it seems
11:57pm
as if some of the evidence points to the idea. part of the atmosphere caused a very rapid ice age. we know they survived that as well. that is a huge radiation disaster. we also know that one good way to survive radiation disasters is to have about 2 feet of rock between you and the incredibly energetic bouncing around. i have a chapter on the book about the underground cities. the nuclear war is one kind of threat and then there's other kinds of radiation disasters that can happen as well. radiation disaster is an imminent threat. it's definitely a scenario that may not have cause mass extinctions in the past.
11:58pm
>> you think there will be pockets of people with greater access to technology as there are now and i would agree with that and see the apocalypse is already here. it's just not distributed and volunteering in the clinic in africa once you get past how dirty everything is and there is no electricity it's really fascinating to see how people can do so much with so few resources and your resources looking at how people in the developing world are already able to deal with an apocalypse. >> i don't talk about it directly like that. what you're saying is absolutely true and that's part of why it's important to remember that the apocalypse and people are capable of living in many different kinds of conditions and in being incredibly resourceful in those conditions panetta and i think that as we look to the teacher it's really important to look to the developing world as a model because there are a lot of ways
11:59pm
in much the kind of development taking place there kind of leapfrogging over the mystics to be made with industrialization. there is a kind of halfway towards the future where we don't have to use of fossil fuels for example or we don't have to have a kind of massive infrastructure to have internet communications. maybe we can start fresh in some way. so i think the simple answer is yes. i think that that is a really good model. and the other thing is that, you know, some of the disasters that have happened in the world like famine is a really big one in which i do talk a lot about in the book and one of the things we learned about famine is that it is a human created disaster and that is something that is learned from how they develop in different parts of the world. sure there is natural causes especially in africa where
12:00am
irrigation is usually from rainfall. the fact is all of it can be prevented with international cooperation and if people actually have access to resources and those resources are not overpriced. ..

Terms of Use (10 Mar 2001)